When groggy, disoriented teenagers are awoken in the predawn hours to find Don Haworth in their room, the 59-year-old with a gray goatee and handcuffs under his coat offers two choices: Come quietly or force will be used.
Haworth is a child transporter.
Parents pay him to take their unwilling and troubled children to wilderness camps and specialized schools, often located in the remote wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. He offers door-to-door service. His charges struggle with problems ranging from drugs to authority issues.
“Parents go in and introduce us to the child,” Haworth explained.
Expletive-laced explosions often follow. The slander falls on deaf ears.
“Whether we actually physically grab them or use restraints . . . it depends on their conduct. We treat kids professionally. We tell them right off the bat they have one opportunity with us to be a young lady or a young gentleman, if they don’t restraints are used,” said Haworth, who runs a private investigation firm in Old Irving Park. Child transport became part of the business in 2005 when a friend called and suggested the idea.
The service isn’t cheap.
Average clients include doctors and attorneys who pay for not only the service, but discretion. Haworth said he’s worked for one “big name client,” but will say no more.
He charges about $3,000 for a transport that often includes a car trip. Leg irons left in plain sight inside the transport vehicle act as a deterrent. During air travel the child is sandwiched in a seat between Haworth and a colleague, usually a female.
But he’s never needed to restrain a child. And he’s only used force one time when a teenage girl wasn’t cooperative. He does about 25 transports a year for children ranging in age from 9 to 17.
“Most of this is immediate need,” said Haworth, who can field a call from distressed parents and be at their door within 48 hours.
A crying parent often greets him, followed by explanations.
“I messed up. … I don’t know what I did wrong. . . . The child won’t listen to me. . . . It’s my husbands fault.”
But the backstory isn’t important.
“I don’t want to be callous, but it doesn’t concern me. My forte in this job is to pick up the kid and get him to wherever we’re supposed to take him, professionally and legally and safely. That’s what I care about,” Haworth said.
The quicker the separation, the better.
“Once we get them away from the parents and get them into our custody for any length of time, they’re alright with us,” said Haworth.
One parent requested her daughter be allowed to smoke in Haworth’s car — a requested he OK’d. Another parent gave Haworth a bunch of chocolate for her son to eat while traveling. Haworth also lets kids listen to the car radio.
He never imagined working as a child transporter when he opened a detective agency in Chicago in 1993.
But he wasn’t a total novice.
In the ’70s, at the behest of worried parents, Haworth located teenagers who’d joined cults in Mexico and Southern California. He’d then link the teen with a psychologist, known as a “deprogrammer,” who would attempt to break any psychological dependency to the cult.
“It was a goofy time back then with people joining cults.”
When asked if he would have been a candidate for child transport as a youth, Haworth smiled.
“I was in the Marine Corps at 17. They straightened me out.”